Acta de Nacimiento for Our Expat Baby: A Tale of Woe

acta de nacimiento

Y’all. I’m pretty sure Dante Alighieri had a baby in Mexico and then tried to get its Acta de Nacimiento and U.S. passport before he wrote The Divine Comedy. “Naked and futile, they race through the mist in eternal pursuit of an elusive, wavering banner.” Yep.

This post is for anyone starting the same process, or for friends and family wondering why you haven’t heard from me in weeks. Hopefully those of you in the same boat can profit from our missteps.


Here’s the deal. If you have a baby in Mexico, that baby is entitled to dual citizenship–Mexican plus the citizenship of the parents. Don’t start celebrating your baby’s chic world citizenship just yet. In Mexico, you don’t just get your birth certificate in the hospital. Oho nooo, that would be too easy. To lock in your baby’s Mexicanity, Mexicanhood, whatever, you have to run a Hunger Games style gamut to get what’s called an Acta de Nacimiento, which is the official state birth certificate. It may be glacial compared to HG, but it’s just as deadly.

If you’re in a hurry to get your baby’s passport because your tourist visas are about to expire, you’re going to be strapped for time. See, you have to get the Acta de Nacimiento before you can even start the process of applying for a U.S. or Mexican passport.

It *looks* like getting a Mexican passport is going to be easier than the U.S. passport. We decided to go for the U.S. passport first. We all know how the U.S. loves foreigners right now, and that’s what our baby would be if we only got the Mexican passport before traveling. So, Acta de Nacimiento and then U.S. passport it is. Here we go.

Getting an Acta de Nacimiento as of 2017

We are in the state of Guanajuato. There’s a chance that if you’re in a different Mexican state the process may vary, but it won’t be more rigorous than this. Give yourself about 9 weeks to get the whole thing done. Start collecting documents *before* junior is born if you want to get a jump on it, because you’ll probably screw something up even if you’re all over it.

  1.  Baby is born (Congratulations! That was the easy part.)
  2. You are required to obtain an Acta de Nacimiento from the Registro Civil (local government office) within sixty days of birth. That’s what the website says. I don’t know what the penalty is but I’m not going to find out. Probably involves death by a thousand paper cuts, literally.
  3.  When your baby is born, the hospital/home practitioner will give you a certificate called the Mexican Secretary of Health Certificate. It’s a long sheet that the doctor will fill out with you, and it comes in triplicate. Make a few copies of this, as you will need one at the U.S. embassy and you’ll need to give the original to the Registro Civil to get your Acta de Nacimiento.
  4. Go to your local government website to see instructions for obtaining the Acta de Nacimiento. You’ll find the list of documents you need. Here is the site for Guanajuato.
  5. Now look up your local Registro Civil. Call them, tell them the neighborhood where your baby was born, and make sure that they are the right branch to come to for the Acta de Nacimiento. Here’s why you should do this. We foolishly thought we had everything in order the day we got out of the hospital. We were so adorable. We jumped in a cab with our newborn and asked the cabby to take us to the Registro Civil. He took us to the wrong one, presumably because the right one was only a block away, and he thought we weren’t stupid enough to get a cab for a block’s ride. He was so wrong. We were totally that stupid.

    There may be several Registro Civils within the city area, each for different neighborhoods. SO, make sure you have the right Registro Civil, and also ask for their opening hours specifically for obtaining an Acta de Nacimiento. On our next foolish attempt, once we had the right building, we came at 1:00 pm. SO STUPID! Obviously, we could only come on a Friday between  8 and 10. These hours can change and may not be posted online, so please, CALL. Oh yeah, and speak Spanish very well, or get someone else to call for you. Don’t just ask the doctor where to go. Our doctor told us to go to the wrong office. Trust no one but the person on the phone at the Registro Civil. He/She is your benevolent narrator, guiding you from afar with vague truths.

Documents You’ll Need for the Acta de Nacimiento

  1. Hospital birth certificate. Check.
  2. Cartilla de vacunas, or a vaccination card. The hospital/midwife may or may not administer baby’s first vaccinations/screenings and an official vaccination card. In my case they did not, and I had to go to the public health center in town, or the Centro de Salud. Guys, I went there three separate times. The first time, the Centro says, “Babies don’t get vaccines before sixty days,” and I’m all, “So why do I need this fricking card?” They say, “That’s right. You need the card.” I say, “Okay, so can I have one?” They say, “We’re out. Come back tomorrow.” This is known as the Dorothy Gale put-off, when our heroine is asked to come back tomorrow for no reason. But I come back the next day, because I’m just going to play their games and beast mode this thing. New day, new people. New people say, “The hospital didn’t give you anything?” I suppress several gestures. They say, “Go back to the hospital and ask them for … [unintelligble Spanish]”

    Even though I have no idea what I need now, I go back to the hospital and explain the situation. Maybe they have cards? Nope. What they have is a bunch of blank, disparaging facial expressions. To get me out of their hair, they tell me to go to a local laboratory, and get the baby his Tamiz blood screening. The record of this will be sufficient, they say.So I do this, I take my baby and let the technician torture him, and I go back and get the results. By the way, my baby has normal blood, so I guess that’s cool. But I don’t stop there. I’m savvy now, see? I CALL the Registro Civil, and I ask, “Is this lab paper sufficient?” Then I hold the phone away from my ear because the gales of laughter are just too fricking loud. “No!” they scream in deranged delight. Actually, the guy was really nice. “Go back to the Centro de Salud, and have them write an official letter saying they’re out of vaccination cards.” He explains this to me three times to be sure I understand.

    Third time at the Centro, new people yet again. But one of them is a wise fairy godmother type who nods knowingly when I explain what the Registro told me. I’m peeing my pants, because the knowing nod is exactly what you want. Where was this lady the first two times I came? Am I the first person to have a baby when the office is out of cards? Do none of them know what to do, or is this hellish quest the only joy they derive from their sad, bureaucratic semblances of lives? Fairy godmother leads me back into a dark den, to the keymaker, I mean, the lady who writes the official letters. And bam, I have this requirement knocked out as easy as that!

  3. Now, you need the mother and father’s certified birth certificates. Easy peasy. We’re travelers, we carry certified copies the way other people carry keychains and bits of pocket lint. Well…not so easy. Because we’re foreigners, we also have to have apostilles and official translations. An apostille is an authentication that a U.S. state’s secretary of state provides when a foreign government wants to make sure your document is legit. Here’s what we did.
  4. Request a certified copy of your birth and marriage certificates from the state website. Have them mailed to someone in the U.S. who can mail them back out to get apostilles. In Michigan’s case, you can just request a certified copy and apostille in one step. In Washington, it’s two different offices. E.g., here are the instructions for obtaining an apostille in the state of Washington.
  5. Once your friend in the states has all three documents with apostilles, have them send these to you via a courier like DHL or Fedex, and have it sent to the local office. You don’t want to worry about it getting lost on the way to your place in Mexico.
  6. Give yourself three to four weeks for the apostille process. Go back to the Mexican state’s website and look for a list of official translators. If you can’t find this, call your handy dandy Registro Civil again, and ask them how the kids are, because you’re practically family at this point. Contact one of these translators to get your birth and marriage certificates officially translated. Or in my case, contact them ALL and use the one who can offer you the fastest and cheapest time. Like a medieval guild, the Registro will only accept translations from someone on their “In” list.
  7. Once you have these three precious documents in hand, make copies. Always always always make copies. But don’t disrupt the staple!! The apostille and translation must be attached to the certified copy. So, good luck getting good copies.
  8. Proof of address. Our Registro Civil would only accept a bill, not the rental contract we’d hurriedly printed out. To be safe, bring your rental contract AND an electricity or utility bill. It doesn’t matter that the bill isn’t in your name, apparently. It didn’t for us. That’s bureaucracy. Hard when it should be easy, occasionally easy when it should be hard.
  9. Finally, bring your own passports, with a copy of the info page.
  10. When you *think* you’re ready to go to the Registro Civil, go at the beginning of the opening hours you’ve already verified, and bring the baby and cash.
  11. Here’s where the copies come in. Different ladies in the office told us different things about whether we needed to give them copies or originals, so always have both. Don’t expect them to make copies for you. Haven’t you learned anything by now?
  12. They will give you a long form and a short form. They told us that we cannot have official copies of the long form, so we made black and white copies at a papeleria. Luckily, the US embassy only needed to look at our long form, and then returned it to us. We paid to have five more short form copies. We did this in Luxembourg too, and it turned out to be a good thing–we’ve needed them over the years for various things.


You are now entitled to get a babysitter, get obliterated, and PTFO with your precious Acta de Nacimiento framed and insured, under your pillow. Now that you’re nice and hungover, are you ready for the U.S. Passport? Our next post entails the steps for obtaining the Consular Report of Birth Abroad and the U.S. Passport.


  • Joyce says:

    Sure sounds like a mess getting your babes citizenship. I’m glad you two are young plus intelligent! Met you two in So Africa ( Carol and Toms sis and bro in law) Good luck!!

    • Sarah B says:

      Hi Joyce, it’s great to hear from you. Yes, at least this is something we only had to do once! Hope you and Don are well and continuing to travel, maybe we’ll get to run into you again. 🙂

  • JC says:

    Wow! And I thought waiting for my baby’s South African passport will take long! Thank you for this post – hopefully it still applies 🙂 my Mexican expat baby is due Sept

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